Solid precipitation on a tropical glacier in Bolivia measured with an ultrasonic depth gauge

Water Resource Research, 38(10), 1189-1195, 2002

An ultrasonic depth gauge was used to measure snowfall over a 2-year period near the equilibrium line of the Zongo glacier (2.4 km**2), Bolivia (16S). Study of the influence of wind, air temperature, and air moisture on the measurements gives a quantification of snowfall at a 3-hour time step, with a sensitivity of 1 cm of snow. The density of fresh snow is estimated by comparison with rain gauge measurements.

The year is marked by a dry season from May to August and a wet season from December to April, during which accumulation and melting coincide on the glacier. Snowfall events are associated with a wind of moderate speed from the valley (less than 4 m/s). Masses of moist air originate in the Amazon basin. The orographic effect produces precipitation at midday in the Andean valleys and in the afternoon in the high mountains. Nighttime snowfall events occur during periods of bad weather related to the regional atmospheric circulation and last several days. The density of fresh snow is high, about 250 kg/m**3, because of the high air temperature during snowfall events (over -3C). The high snow density and the moderate wind speeds prevent snow drifting conditions, which results in low spatial variability of the accumulation on tropical glaciers.

Accurate recording of snowfall at a short time step is important for the study of energy fluxes at the glacier surface because snowfall events greatly increase the albedo and solar radiation is generally the main source of melting energy.

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